Politics

Meet Ashvathaman, Who Is Challenging The DMK In Its Stronghold Of Tiruvannamalai

The Commune

Apr 03, 2024, 06:53 PM | Updated 06:53 PM IST


BJP's Ashvathaman is posing a serious challenge in DMK stronghold.
BJP's Ashvathaman is posing a serious challenge in DMK stronghold.
  • BJP's Tiruvannamalai candidate Ashvathaman outlines his ideas to overcome the DMK challenge this Lok Sabha elections.
  • Tiruvannamalai — this world-renowned holy city of Shiva, that attracts pilgrims from all over the world — has been fortified by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) strongman E V Velu.

    The Tiruvannamalai Lok Sabha constituency, which was carved out from Tirupattur constituency in 2008, comprises of six assembly segments, namely — Jolarpettai, Chengam (SC), Kalasapakkam, Tirupattur, Keezhpennathur, and Tiruvannamalai — all of which are represented by DMK MLAs with E V Velu himself representing the Tiruvannamalai Assembly constituency.

    In the Lok Sabha elections held from 1962 to 2004 when Tirupattur was a constituency, DMK has won eight times, Congress three times and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) once. After the formation of Tiruvannamalai, the DMK has won twice and the AIADMK once in 2014.

    In the 2019 parliamentary elections, DMK’s C N Annadurai won by securing 666,272 votes.

    AIADMK candidate Agri S S Krishnamurthy who contested against him secured 362,085 votes, Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) candidate Gnanasekar got 38,639 votes, Naam Tamilar Katchi candidate Ramesh Babu got 27,503 votes and Makkal Needhi Maiam candidate Arul polled 14,654 votes.

    The DMK is fielding its incumbent C N Annadurai again and the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP’s) candidate in this contest is Ashvathaman, a 38-year-old advocate, and a Hindutva leader known for his fiery interviews and speeches.

    Political Journey

    Born and raised in Pugaipatti village, Ulundurpet Taluk, Kallakurichi District, Ashvathaman’s journey into politics was influenced by his early association with the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), where he served as the South Chennai district youth leader.

    However, his ideological alignment with the BJP eventually led him to join the party in 2012, marking a significant transition in his political career. 

    Apart from the legal activism, Ashvathaman has also helped in students getting enrolled in Agnipath scheme by providing them free training at his native Ulundurpet.

    With a diverse background spanning legal advocacy, social activism, and political engagement, Ashvathaman is seen as bringing a fresh perspective to the political landscape of the region.

    Ashvathaman In The Field

    Currently serving as BJP Tamil Nadu’s state secretary, Ashvathaman articulates his vision of Hindutva and takes on the DMK, its leaders and principles during interviews and public appearances. Many of his speeches often go viral.

    As the election campaigning heats up, Ashvathaman traverses through key locations in the Tiruvannamalai constituency, engaging in interactions with constituents from diverse backgrounds.

    Amid a political landscape dominated by established parties, Ashvathaman’s candidacy represents a departure from the status quo, offering voters an alternative voice and perspective.

    However, he faces formidable challenges, including entrenched caste-based politics, voter polarisation, and the prevalence of cash-for-votes practices. He draws attention to the challenges faced by farmers, inadequate job opportunities, and the urgent need for economic revitalisation in the region.

    The Commune caught up with Ashvathaman for an interview. Here are the edited excerpts from the conversation:

    Commune: Tell us about your association with the PMK.

    Ashvathaman: During my tenure with the PMK’s student union from 2004 to 2009, known as the Patalli Manavar Sangam, I actively participated in various protests, including those advocating for OBC (Other Backward Class) reservation in central government departments.

    Despite transitioning to focus on my legal career after 2009, my commitment to social work remained steadfast.

    Ideologically, both the PMK and BJP resonate with my values, shaped by my family’s patriotic ethos and admiration for leaders like (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee. My upbringing inculcated a deep sense of pride in Indian culture and a belief in its potential to lead the world towards prosperity. 

    During my time in a convent school, there was a drawing competition coinciding with Vajpayee’s deployment of a warship around the Palk strait. I participated by sketching the ship and creating a collage showcasing all of Vajpayee’s initiatives for the nation.

    This was inspired by the discussions we frequently had at home, where my family and I would deeply engage in such topics. I have also grown up witnessing the importance of patriotism, and pride for Indian philosophy/Hindutva in my father’s role as a headmaster.

    Nation always comes first and fostering patriotism is crucial, but I see India’s role extends beyond its borders. I firmly believe that India has what the world needs for it to become a better place and that is why India should become the Vishwaguru of the world. 

    Commune: Why did you shift to the BJP?

    Ashvathaman: I don’t see it as a shift. After my tenure in the PMK’s student union and focusing on my legal career and social work, I found myself drawn to the ideology of the BJP. It resonated more with my beliefs and values.

    In 2011, around the age of 27 or 28, I made the decision to join the BJP along with 98 other lawyers. An incident in 2015, where Karunanidhi criticised me in Murasoli regarding a case I filed about self-respect marriage, prompted me to respond in a press meet. Veeramani’s article in Vidhuthalai also elicited a response from me.

    My stance garnered appreciation, notably from Veerathuravi Rama Gopal ji, for confronting the DMK. Those words of encouragement remain memorable and are a source of inspiration for me to this day.

    Commune: How do you perceive your candidacy, following in the footsteps of PMK stalwart and firebrand Kaduvetti Guru as a first-time BJP Lok Sabha candidate?

    Ashvathaman: When my name was announced for the Tiruvannamalai constituency, I felt a sense of pride knowing that I was contesting in the same constituency as Kaduvetti Guru. We are both first-time candidates representing our respective parties in this constituency.

    I hold him in high regard and make it a point to visit his home for every memorial occasion possible. Despite receiving 2.88 lakh votes, he narrowly lost the election.

    At that time, PMK contested alone without any alliance. Similar to him, false allegations and misinformation are being spread about me by the DMK, I take it as a matter of pride. Nevertheless, both the Lotus (BJP symbol) and I have become prominent topics in the current political discourse.

    Commune: What challenges are you facing in Tiruvannamalai, considering your background/base in Cuddalore and Ulundurpettai?

    Ashvathaman: Whether I contest from Cuddalore, Kallakurichi, or Tiruvannamalai, the party believes I can win. Annamalai has been a great moral support for me, and believes in me; he is like an elder brother, a part of my family.

    Tiruvannamalai is not unchartered territory for me; it’s just an hour away from my home, and my relatives live here. I’ve already fulfilled some of the wishes of the people here. 

    As for Tiruvannamalai, it holds great historical significance. Arthanareesa Varma, a freedom fighter akin to Subramania Bharathi, left a lasting impact here. His contributions, including bringing in liquor abolition laws and providing arms training to youth during the fight for independence, are noteworthy.

    I’ve written about him and his poems in various editorials, and even got the approval for a stamp to be issued in his honour. When the Ammani Amman temple was destroyed, I voiced my support for the matt. I have already done a lot of work in the Cuddalore/Ulundurpettai side.

    I am grateful that Union Railway Minister Ashwani Vaishnaw fulfilled two of our requests for train stops in a single day. He agreed to our demands for express trains to halt at Ulundurpettai in the Kallakurichi district and for the Tiruchendur express train to stop at Kuthalam in Mayiladuthurai district. 

    Tiruvannamalai isn’t unfamiliar to me. Even before receiving a ticket, I’ve been involved in addressing issues here. Some time ago, a child died due to the lack of a proper road in Tiruvannamalai. I protested against this, urging the collector to take action.

    Additionally, I’ve been working relentlessly for the people, irrespective of the constituency. For instance, I’ve petitioned to remove the Goondas Act filed against farmers protesting the usurping of their lands for building SIPCOT here, although the case is still pending even after the act’s removal. 

    The Kurumbar community members approached me with a petition to be enrolled in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) list. They visited Kamalalayam with their request, and even before that, I had already initiated the process to address their concerns.

    Annamalai entrusted me with this responsibility during his En Mann En Makkal yatra, and I ensured that their petition sees its logical end. The proactive steps I have taken so far have been well-received by the people, and they appreciate my efforts.

    Even before receiving a ticket for the Lok Sabha polls, I was committed to serving their interests. Now, they have confidence that I will continue to fulfill my responsibilities effectively when I become an MP.

    Commune: What are the primary concerns facing the constituents in this constituency?

    Ashvathaman: The foremost issue is the lack of development across various sectors. Farmers in the region struggle with balance settlement issues annually, leading to protests for fair compensation.

    Additionally, there’s a severe scarcity of job opportunities and industrial infrastructure, forcing residents to seek employment in distant cities like Bangalore or Chennai. Despite promises of industrial zones like SIPCOT, land acquisition issues and legal hurdles persist, leaving the region devoid of significant economic growth.

    I have initiated several projects aimed at tackling these challenges head-on. One such initiative is the bioethanol project, which not only addresses environmental concerns but also creates economic opportunities for the local populace.

    Furthermore, I am committed to improving connectivity by advocating for the establishment of railway tracks connecting Tiruvannamalai to key cities like Bangalore and Chennai.

    Additionally, I aim to complete ongoing infrastructure projects like the Thenpennai-Palar connection and the Nandan Canal to ensure access to essential services like water supply.

    Moreover, I believe in empowering youth through initiatives. When Agnipath was announced, I with the help of retired army officers came up with a training camp offering free lodging, boarding, and training for aspirants looking to join the armed forces.

    In the first batch, out of 110 candidates, 33 have been selected, representing a placement rate of 35 per cent. The response from the students has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly from villages where there is a strong eagerness to pursue careers in the armed forces.

    Furthermore, it’s worth noting that there is currently a lack of sports facilities in the area. Despite the enthusiasm and capability of our youth, there is a notable absence of training opportunities for them to prepare for careers in the armed forces.

    Therefore, I am advocating for the establishment of sports training centres at the panchayat level to provide our youth with the necessary guidance and resources to pursue their aspirations in the armed forces.

    Commune: Could you outline the key points of your manifesto for the constituency?

    Ashvathaman: At the panchayat level, my focus is on establishing sports training centres to promote physical fitness and skill development among the youth. At the assembly level, I aim to establish armed forces training centres to facilitate career opportunities in the defence sector.

    Additionally, I plan to set up people’s service centres across six assembly constituencies to ensure accessibility for constituents seeking assistance.

    Moreover, my office will actively support the formation of self-help groups for women, aiming to implement government schemes and foster entrepreneurial ventures among the youth.

    Furthermore, I advocate for Tiruvannamalai’s inclusion in the smart city scheme. Tiruvannamalai is akin to Ayodhya in terms of being a spiritual centre.

    Improving infrastructure, enhancing job opportunities for youth and women, and developing infrastructure in and around the Javadhu Hills region are also integral aspects of my manifesto.

    Additionally, I propose the establishment of free robotic and science schools for tribal communities in these hills, addressing the neglect they have faced in previous elections.

    Moreover, I intend to construct a bypass road outside Tiruvannamalai to alleviate traffic congestion and facilitate smoother transportation.

    Furthermore, I envision the implementation of an airport under the UDAN scheme to cater to the needs of travellers visiting Tiruvannamalai from various parts of the world.

    Commune: How do you perceive the issue of the “cash for votes” culture, and do you believe people will vote for you despite it?

    Ashvathaman: I won’t say cash for votes and voting for a person from one’s caste does not exist. Instead, I advocate for candidates who work for the welfare of all communities.

    My actions reflect this belief, as I have worked for the betterment of everyone, regardless of their background. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiatives, such as scholarships for Muslims, exemplify his commitment to serving all citizens.

    Commune: Considering the diversity within the Tiruvannamalai LS seat, particularly in reserved constituencies like Chengam, how do you plan to address concerns regarding support from other communities and ensure outreach to all?

    Ashvathaman: I emphasise that the VCK party and SC communities should not be viewed monolithically. Many SC organisations in Tiruvannamalai, like the Paraiyar Iyakkam, support my candidacy because I advocate for the freedom and greatness of the SC community beyond political boundaries.

    My outreach efforts extend beyond any specific community. I have advocated for historical figures like Swamy Sahajananda and Rettamalayar, highlighting their significance irrespective of community affiliation.

    Celebrating individuals like Arthanarisa Varma and Jaihind Shenbagaraman, regardless of their community, underscores the importance of embracing diverse legacies.

    My approach transcends community boundaries, resonating with various organisations and individuals. I prioritise inclusive policies and actions, fostering friendship and support from all quarters.

    Commune: What is your relationship like with Yogi Adityanath?

    Ashvathaman: Yogi Adityanath is widely respected and admired by many, including myself. His tenure as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh has been marked by significant progress and development initiatives, transforming the state’s landscape.

    He has singlehandedly ensured the state received investments from investors along with impactful reforms, he has uplifted millions of lives in Uttar Pradesh. I hold great admiration for his leadership and the positive changes he has brought about in the state.

    Commune: What is the battlefield like in Tiruvannamalai? Isn’t it proclaimed as EV Velu’s fort?

    Ashvathaman: In Tiruvannamalai, only two parties are engaged in the battle. The current landscape seems to be in favour of the NDA. You will see on 4 June whose stronghold it truly is.

    This is an edited version of a profile that first appeared in 'The Commune'. The original article can be read here.


    Get Swarajya in your inbox.


    Magazine


    A road trip through the poorest regions of India — its heartland